The Hollywood Mogul Who Founded Universal Studios and Rescued Jews from Hitler’s Germany

September 26, 2019 | Rafael Medoff and Sandy Einstein
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Wednesday marked the 80th anniversary of the death of Carl Laemmle, who produced such films as All Quiet on the Western Front, Frankenstein, and Dracula. Born in Laupheim, Germany in 1867, Laemmle came to the U.S. in 1884 and would go on to open one of Chicago’s first move theaters and to found what later became Universal Pictures. He also spent his final years trying to save Jews from the Nazis, as Rafael Medoff and Sandy Einstein write:

Laemmle experienced the Nazi menace [from afar] even before Adolf Hitler rose to power. The Berlin premiere of All Quiet on the Western Front in December 1930 was violently disrupted by a Nazi mob led by Joseph Goebbels. . . . In January 1932—more than a year before Hitler became chancellor of Germany—Laemmle outlined his fears in a letter to the newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, who had published occasional columns by Hitler.

Soon after the Nazis came to power, a street which had been named after Laemmle in his hometown of Laupheim was renamed Hitler Street. Soon after that, Universal closed its offices in Germany.

[At the time], one of the devices the Roosevelt administration used to obstruct immigration [was a legal requirement that] a would-be immigrant find an American citizen who would pledge to support him financially in the event he could not support himself. . . . Laemmle served as the financial guarantor for more than 300 Jews, many from Laupheim, to come to the United States. Some of them were his relatives; most were not. By the spring of 1938, U.S. officials stepped in to block Laemmle’s rescue initiative.

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